Indie "roots/rock" band makes one "like they used to."

Why this elegant-sounding Chicago based band steeped in the best of 1970s folk/rock chose to name itself after an obscure, and pretty much ignored fish--a trout relative (Salvelinus malma) that is not pursued either commercially or as a sport fish--is a question I can't answer. Naming your band after a fish is odd--doubly so when it's one that makes it sound as if you're talking about a person instead of a group, as in "Have you heard Dolly Varden?" "No. Who is she?" Or another response: "Dolly Parton? No, but I heard she did a version of 'Stairway to Heaven'! What was she thinking?"

The quintet, fronted by the husband/wife team of Stephen Dawson and Diane Christensen, turns out sincerely felt, melodic, hook-filled mid-tempo tunes--the kind that were the basic pop-musical currency of the 1970s but have since fallen out of favor (save for today's "country" music, which is mostly recycled Eagles with big hats and small-minded lyrics). Dolly Varden's music is anything but recycled or small-minded, though. The songs are reflective, smart, densely drawn vignettes, many of which require repeated listening to unravel and appreciate. Lyrically speaking, small gestures mean more for this group than dramatic turns of a phrase or memorable images. So enticing are the melodies and the means by which they're delivered, it's easy to let the words drift by in unconnected streams. The ache in "Trying to Live Up" will pull you into this group's emotional circle the very first time you hear it.

You'll hear Jackson Browne in "Disappear" (right down to Dawson's pronouncing the word "water" as "wahter"), and Gram Parsons in "There's a Magic." There could be a Neil Finn/Crowded House melodic construction in "Wish You Were Here," with Christiansen playing Linda to Dawson's Richard Thompson (same on "Time For Me to Leave"), and references to The Band abound, but Dawson's stately melodic sense is so exquisitely developed that these fleeting references don't linger.

What remains are memorable, hook-filled, guitar-driven tunes played and sung with immense charm and skill, particularly by Ms. Christiansen, who, like Sandy Denny or Linda Thompson, has one of those supple voices that can hit the heights with seeming ease and just as easily drop to a sultry whisper. It's a voice you want to hear. Her songwriting shines here, as well. The arrangements are seemingly basic, skillfully playing acoustic rhythm guitar strums against soaring electric leads, but every tune on this strong set offers something special, sonically and musically.

Forgiven Now is the group's fourth album, which has been eagerly anticipated by fans of its previous album, The Dumbest Magnets (2000), another hook-filled festival of melodic folk/rock released on Evil Teen records. Forgiven Now is on Undertow, an independent "music collective" run by the band's manager, Bob Andrews. John Richards' Diverse Vinyl issued the 180-gram LP, mastered by Ray Staff and exquisitely pressed by Pallas.

The production, by Brad Jones, is honest, pristine, and immediate, appropriately recalling the great Sound Techniques recordings of John Wood for British Island during the '70s. More spare than lush, it emphasizes the music's rhythmic and dynamic drive over studio-induced atmospherics, yet a careful listening reveals the great care and skill that must have gone into creating the record's distinctive yet subtle sound. Instrumental and vocal images are painted large, forward, and somewhat dryly.

I haven't heard the Undertow CD, but I can vouch for the LP. It offers immense clarity, yet sufficient warmth and image dimensionality to be both soothing and exciting. All in all, a winning disc you'll be playing and savoring for a long time to come for both its music and sound. Highly recommended.